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Architects call for restoration of Belfast’s fire-ravaged Bank Buildings


Architects have called for Belfast’s city-centre Bank Buildings to be returned to their ‘full glory’ after they were gutted in a devastating fire

The fire swept through the five-storey building in the heart of the Northern Irish capital’s shopping district on Tuesday morning. 

The 1903 Bank Buildings, designed by WJ Lynn, have sustained catastrophic damage. They were leased by retailer Primark and were part-way through a £30 million refurbishment when the fire hit.

In a statement issued this afternoon (Wednesday), the fire service said the incident was ‘ongoing’. It said that internal floors of the building had collapsed, and that there were fears for the building’s structural stability.

’We certainly can’t guarantee the structural integrity of the building at this time,’ assistant chief fire officer Michael Graham told the BBC.

’Our expectation is that the internal floors will collapse where the fire has been burning at its greatest intensity.’

Belfast-based architect and RIBA president-elect Alan Jones said: ’The 1903 Bank Buildings is in the historic heart of Belfast. Forming a visual stop to Castle Place its grand scale and well-maintained stone façade set a high reference point for quality.

’The Grade B1 listing indicates this importance and best endeavours must be made to retain and return this landmark to its full glory’.

Joan McCoy, president of The Royal Society of Ulster Architects, said the building was one of Belfast’s ‘much-loved historic landmarks’.

McCoy said it would be a long and complex process to determine the future of the premises, and questions of ‘restoration versus demolition’ would have to be addressed.

’The primary focus will be to retain the building if possible. The aim will be to ascertain if there is enough of the historic fabric remaining to allow restoration.’

’Losing the building would be like losing a character that is part of the story of Belfast, both in terms of its history and also in relation to its cityscape. We hope that it can be saved.’

A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokesperson said:The incident is ongoing and fire-fighting operations will continue throughout today.

’There has been structural collapse within the building this morning and a 45m exclusion zone remains in place.’

The original Bank Buildings were designed by Sir Robert Taylor and erected by Waddell Cunningham in 1785. 


Readers' comments (3)

  • Industry Professional

    I would have hoped that, after so many years of improved guidance and the impetus from insurers, catastrophic fires to buildings during construction works would be fairly isolated events but this and the one in Glasgow put that idea in the bin. It seems that fire such as the 1990 one at Broadgate in London may still be a real possibility.

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  • There must be lessons to be learnt from catastrophic fires that break out in buildings being renovated, because they seem to happen fairly regularly.
    And the Belfast building joins a long list of badly damaged bits of our heritage where there's a fight needed to resist calls for their rapid demolition on safety grounds.
    The controversial aftermath of the two big fires in Glasgow city centre in recent months - and the current black farce in Ayr, where the long drawn out and suspected deliberate neglect of the listed Station Hotel has now led to part abandonment of train services for safety reasons - suggest an imbalance between 'prevention' and 'cure' in terms of the ability of building control to nip trouble in the bud as opposed to applying draconian safety measures after the event.

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  • Chris Roche

    Another fire, another tragedy, another reason more needs to be done to review, and reduce, the risk of this happening again. It is fortunate that no lives were lost, but if this is a case of cost saving putting the building, it's occupants, and our fires services at risk then I suggest the RIBA should be demanding a Government White Paper to review current practice and make recommendations to minimise future risk.

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